Elizabeth Bennet is Austen's most liberated and unambiguously appealing heroine, and Pride and Prejudice has remained over most of the past two centuries Austen's most popular novel. The story turns on the marriage prospects of the five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet: Elizabeth forms a prejudice against the proud and distant Mr. Darcy; Darcy's charming friend Charles Bingley falls in love with her sister Jane; and the handsome officer George Wickham forms attachments successively to Elizabeth and to her sister Lydia. Irvine's extensive introduction sets the novel in the context of the literary and intellectual history of the period, and deals with such crucial background issues as early-nineteenth century class relations in Britain, and female exclusion from property and power.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. "My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"